Medjool dates are one of the most highly prized varieties, perfect to pair with desserts or herbed cheese.
Considered the first plant cultivated by humans, the date palm has African and Middle Eastern origins. Its name comes from the Greek “daktilos” meaning finger, because of its finger-like shape. The trees begin to bear fruit only after 8 years, and reach full maturity at 30. The majority of dates in Italian markets are from Tunisia and the Middle East, but they are also grown in California, and can now also be found growing in Sicily. This autumn fruit is harvested in late October, but since they are usually sold dried, candied or as a paste, they’re available year round. There are several date varieties, but the most exquisite are the Deglet Nour of Tunisia and the Medjool of Israel.
Medjool dates, which come from the valleys of the Jordan river, are picked at the peak of ripeness, sun dried and cooled quickly to seal in their freshness. They are the largest on the market, and contain no glucose syrup, but are soft and delicious while also being rich in fiber and potassium.
In the kitchen
They’re not just for holiday tables. Today dates are much loved in international and vegan cuisine for their flavor profile, as well as by athletes for their energy value. The numbers talk in Italy: there has been a 4.5% annual rise in consumption thanks in part to the process of becoming ‘seasonless’. They’re eaten fresh or dried, and can be paired with chocolate or nuts, but they’re also perfect with herbed cheese or mature sheep’s milk cheese. They’re excellent eaten raw, and are ideal for decorating sweets or making preserves. In Middle Eastern cuisine, they’re mixed with olive oil and flour to make a fried dish called “tagilla”. They’re also used as a sweetener in Arab countries, where they’re added to black tea.
Did you Know that
A type of honey is obtained from the juice of fresh dates which is often used in dessert making. Leaving it to ferment will give you an alcoholic drink called arrak, or a very delicate vinegar. Dates are one of the ingredients in Jallab, a popular drink in the Middle East that also contains grape molasses and rosewater. You can even toast date pits and use them as a coffee substitute. They’re also said to help increase sexual stamina if you soak them in goat’s milk overnight. The next morning, blend the dates in the same milk and add a mix of honey and cardamom powder.